Ask me five years ago what I would have said about Matthew McConaughey, and I would have said he was a great talent who wasted his capabilities. Even when he was good, he was simply good but not outstanding. Have I never eaten my words more than I have these past few years with McConaughey’s stellar performances, and the final full stop of my mea culpa is the year of 2013: The year where he showed the world his absolute peak of talent. He started the year off as Mud– an isolated man of legend– and he trampled us with his contained cocktail of fear and courage. He was the turning point in the lives of two young boys when they finally faced the grim realities of adulthood in a poor area by the river. He warmed them up to these truths with a calm voice, a wilted smile and a weak-but-bold posture. He then warned us as viewers of the scary severities of the initial impact of the HIV virus in Dallas Buyers Club, where he was a gaunt cowboy. He isn’t even likable at first as he slurs homophobic insults and toots his own horn. Once he gets past his inevitability and starts helping others, albeit initially to feed his own greed, McConaughey evolves into an actual hero within the era, much like Woodroof himself. McConaughey played two Southern State turning point heros this year, and this is the turning point where I finally throw my hands up in the air and call Matthew McConaughey the brilliant actor he truly is.
Talk about risk taking. You have Léa Seydoux whose name has been tossed around for years as being a woman of beauty with blue hair and no make up in a film about sexuality (try finding that in Hollywood). Then you have Adele Exarchopoulos in her leading lady debut as a young teen discovering sex for herself right in front of us. Both women expose themselves physically and emotionally to us, with authentic crying that isn’t attractive at all. You know what? In the end, it is a much more attractive product, never mind. It’s good to see such honest performances, especially when dealing with a sensitive subject like homosexuality. The chemistry between Adele and Léa is what the pacing of the movie thrives on, and they are quite an electrifying couple indeed. You can see why Adele couldn’t get Emma out of her head, and why Emma had to take a second glance back. By the end of the film, you will be there in the room with the two of them experiencing every miniscule ounce of tension. There’s a reason why the Palme d’Or was awarded to the two of them, along with director Abdellatif Kechiche, which has never happened in the history of the Cannes Film Festival, and it’s because this pair of courageous ladies took as much control over the movie as Kechiche himself did.
To match Steve McQueen’s brutal visions, you need actors willing to go the extra mile. Michael Fassbender has done so for McQueen three times now, this time as the demonically religious slave owner Edwin Epps. He barks orders, is full of such hatred within his gaze, and he couldn’t be more deeply rooted within a garden of racist despise, especially with the way he stands over his slaves. Aside from a McQueen veteran, we have a sleeper veteran with Chiwetel Ejiofor, of whom is a terrific actor but has never exploded within the industry as a household name until now. Rightfully so, as his take on Solomon Northup throughout the years is a slowly aging work of wonder. He stares out into the distance wondering why this all happened. He gasps when he is beaten with such power, you fear that he actually got hit while performing. He fights to survive with such a weak body but with such a persevering mind. As he grows older, the torment within his expressions grows stronger and stronger. His successes are mirrored by Patsey’s failures, played by the superb newcomer Lupita Nyong’o (of whom will soon face her career laid out in front of her after this film). Her struggles are tremendous, her cries are earth shattering, and her fragile body could break if the wind picked up. She’s someone who fights as hard as Solomon does but ultimately she is the one whose battle wounds push Solomon further and gives him the strength he needs. Between three powerhouse performances, 12 Years a Slave will certainly get to your emotional side whether you like it or not.
Behind a curtain, we hear a sultry voice that’s silkier than velvet and smoother than wine. The curtain is pulled, and out comes Rayon: A deathly thin transvestite whose head seems to be toppling her over. This is Jared Leto: An actor who has taken risks before but they usually seem to have collapsed underneath him because the films themselves weren’t good enough (see Chapter 27 and Lonely Hearts as two examples). Now that he has a legitimate chance with Dallas Buyers Club, the podium Jared Leto struts onto like a catwalk is taken full advantage of. In his completely unrecognizable performance, Leto makes Rayon talk with little effort (despite putting on an absolutely convincing female voice) and walk with all of the power she can muster. She knows her fate, and she begs for it to not happen a few times within the film. When she is living her everyday life, she pretends that it isn’t a big deal. She’s had to face a bigger acting challenge by pretending she wasn’t who she is until she came out, so this isn’t a problem for her at all. Leto makes all of this happen in a role that even on a basic level should have been nearly impossible. At 41, Jared Leto will finally get the recognition he’s strived for for years, and, because of his complete investment, in 2013, it is Dallas Buyers Club that contains the best male performance of the year.
Here it is. This is a performance of a career. We have Jeanette Francis, better known as Jasmine, whose put on theatrics are of a socialite refusing to give into the fact that she no longer contains such power. In reality, she’s an everyday woman going through a financial crisis, and these events are ones many of us can relate to. We just aren’t socialites with an inability to accept the truth. As Jasmine stares eerily towards an empty void and talks to herself, we fear we too will end up that route. You don’t have to be delusional to find comfort within yourself. You just need enough of a push to have to resort to using your own methods of deconstruction in order for it to turn into a sickness.
This beginning of Jasmine’s sickness is played by Cate Blanchett, who channels Katherine Hepburn and Vivien Leigh to bring a sense of old Hollywood into Blue Jasmine. If we can sense the power of those two actresses here, we can sense the amount of downfall they have experienced without them fully explaining it (despite Jasmine’s best efforts to without cracking). Jasmine is an inebriated mess who slurs and is unbalanced, and her nickname is the only pretty thing about her. What is beautiful about her, however, is her open candidness not brought on by the character, but by Cate Blanchett’s refusal to hide behind her character’s own barrier. Blanchett juggles old Hollywood, new Hollywood, the struggles we have now, and dramatic irony, all through one singular performance. It is one that is instantly riveting from start to finish, and one that may be Blanchett’s best; Even in a career full of as many iconic roles as hers. Cate Blanchett as the 1%-yet-everyday-woman Jasmine is the top performance of 2013, and it is one that will be solidified in both her and Woody Allen’s legacies.